Mr Handel's Dinner (Maurice Steger)
Swiss recorder supremo Maurice Steger’s latest offering is a fun-filled imagining of the sorts of musical interludes that might have accompanied Handel’s interval dinners while his operas ruled the roost on London’s various stages. Joie de vivre verily sings through the air right from the first bars of its fizzing opener: a concerto for alto recorder by Handel himself which began life as a recorder sonata (HWV369), got reworked to become one of the many organ concertos with which he entertained the crowds between acts of his oratorios (HWV293), and appears here in a new amalgamation of those two versions which also sees Steger improvise between the second and third movements, to give a flavour of the extemporaneous insertions with which Handel would enrich his own organ parts. Not that with Steger we have to wait for that cadenza for the flashy stuff: just listen to the breakneck speed with which he dashes off the Allegro second movement, where Janine Jonker’s equally feistily en pointe second recorder line makes for some sizzlingly ear-popping textures.
Indeed, extreme ensemble virtuosity, and the crackest of crack continuo units, are absolute non-negotiables when Steger’s around and La Cetra deliver on these throughout in joyous spadefuls. Take the way they’re right alongside him for his freewheeling Bourrée – his pirouetting lines now coming via a soprano – sitting within yet another fresh spin on Handel originals, this time a dance suite assembled out of ballet movements from his 1704 first opera, Almira, Königin von Castilien. Or the different brand of ensemble prowess displayed in the opening Adagio of Geminiani’s G major Flute Concerto (based on Corelli’s Op 5 No 11), as the strings’ slower, smoother lines snugly dovetail within Steger’s own soaring, rhapsodically notey embellishments.
This isn’t an album over which the wind is always whistling in your ears, though. For instance, there’s Gottfried Finger’s ground: always a bewitching number but here especially so with its luscious bass-line continuo richness and its luminous timbres. I’m really not sure what Steger can do to top this album. Although, knowing him, I suspect he might.